As chairman of the California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement (LMGA), I am often asked if leafy greens are safer today than before the creation of our food safety program in 2007.
While I am in agreement with many others in the farming community who think leafy greens have always been safe, I honestly believe the existence of the LGMA has made this healthy food safer than ever before. In fact, given the drive for continuous improvement that is at the core of the LGMA, I would say that leafy greens are getting safer all the time.
As a farmer of leafy greens and a certified LGMA handler, I know firsthand the rigor of the LGMA food safety program, the thoroughness of the government audit program, the system of announced and unannounced audits, and the corrective actions required of us if we violate even one of the food safety checkpoints included in the LGMA audit.
As an LGMA Board member, I am also keenly aware of the transparent process by which LGMA metrics are updated to ensure they incorporate the best science available. I have seen the LGMA Tech program which trains our workforce grow stronger each year.
The very existence of the LGMA provides a resource for government agencies charged with protecting public health.
With the LGMA, every certified handler is required to have a reliable trace back program which is extremely beneficial in preventing foodborne illnesses outbreaks from spreading. And if a foodborne illness outbreak involving leafy greens happens, the LGMA can examine its metrics and the required food safety practices can be changed to reflect new information and findings.
None of this existed prior to the creation of the LGMA.
For these reasons and more, I believe leafy greens are safer today than they were in 2006. I know for certain that food safety is a part of the culture on our farm as it is on farms throughout the California leafy greens industry.
A few weeks ago, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency released an interesting report which examined over 4,000 samples of leafy greens. It found that more than 99.9 percent had no detectable levels of bacterial pathogens and were safe to consume.
This is great news and is an indicator of the safety of leafy greens. It should be noted that, from the very beginnings of the LGMA, the Canadian government‘s import requirements stipulate that leafy greens from California must be produced by LGMA-certified handlers.
(Comments from Western Farm Press Editor Cary Blake: The California Leafy Greens Agreement was proposed and adopted by the California leafy greens industry following an E. coli outbreak in Fall 2006 traced back to fresh spinach grown on a California farm.
The E. coli outbreak caused 205 confirmed illnesses and three deaths, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The leafy greens industry wanted to regulate itself on food safety (the LGMA) instead of a government regulatory plan.
The Arizona Leafy Greens Agreement was adopted shortly thereafter; modeled after the California program.)